By Cyndie Sirekis
Convincing members of Congress to pay attention to a specific issue is a herculean task considering all the attention now focused on the fallout from the partial government shutdown, the looming federal debt crisis and so on. That is why Farm Bureau members are joining with Americans for Reform, a loose coalition of business owners, faith leaders, law enforcement officials and conservatives, to push Congress to act on immigration reform this year.
Farmers and ranchers from around the nation will be delivering messages to their legislators in Washington, D.C., on why immigration reform is important to them. Many compelling stories will be shared.
As a life-long farmer and an employer, Doug Krahmer has experienced the difficulty of finding enough pickers to harvest his 500 acres of blueberries and to help with the year-round maintenance of the plants.
Krahmer and his daughter Annie operate a blueberry farm in Oregon. As much as 40 percent of the workers they employ are new to the fields each year due to immigration issues. Along with migrant workers, Krahmer aims to employ as many unemployed Americans and young people as he can.
“I just need productive and legal workers,” Krahmer says.
In Pennsylvania, farmers like Ed Leo are finding it difficult to hire enough workers to harvest mushrooms by hand. Although he employs about 60 full-time people to harvest mushrooms, it has been difficult to find and hire additional workers that are needed due to immigration issues.
“Throughout the summer we had to harvest crops earlier than normal, which we don’t like to do,” explains Leo.
Despite offering pay that is double what local fast-food employees earn, plus health benefits, paid vacation time and holidays, few domestic workers are interested in working on the farm.
And mechanized harvesting of mushrooms is not an option because fungi that start growing at the same time often vary in size and maturity level.
For Georgia peach grower Chalmers Carr, the H-2A program offered by the federal government to help farmers bring foreign workers in to harvest crops is just too difficult to navigate. And all too frequently, delays have meant workers arrive in the U.S. weeks after a crop is ready to be harvested. It’s a situation that’s all too common for farmers across the U.S.
“Immigration reform is well overdue,” says Carr, who has struggled to find workers for a dozen years, despite offering wages well above the federal minimum of $7.35 per hour.
Farmers are doing their best to make sure their concerns are heard above the din in Washington. If Congress does nothing in response, they won’t be the only ones facing the consequences. It may not happen immediately, but continuation of current agricultural labor policies is almost guaranteed to lead to higher food costs for consumers.
Cyndie Sirekis is director of news services at the American Farm Bureau Federation.